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February 13, 2018 > Clubs hobby is on the money

Clubs hobby is on the money

By Victor Carvellas

Who hasnt looked through their loose change from time to time looking for interesting coins Maybe youve found a double die Lincoln cent, a pure silver Kennedy half dollar, or a Mercury dime. The men and women of the Fremont Coin Club share your interest, and then some.

The club, founded in 1971, meets at the Elks Club on Farwell Drive the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. If you ask most members why they belong, the answer is consistent: As 17-year member Herb Miles notes, Its a way of meeting like-minded people. Collectors share a basic interest in coins and currency, but usually develop specialties, which they enjoy sharing.

Miles, for instance, collects good fors, tokens popular from the 1890s to the 1940s produced by merchants to entice return customers. Tokens could be good for five cents off a cigar, a free drink, or in one case, a free stick of dynamite.

Miles also collects an obscure bit of Americana: KKK tokens, coins specially created by the group to raise funds. Says Miles, I go around to all the shows and they know what I collect, so theyll set something aside for me. In the past, though, they didnt know me; Id say, you got any KKK tokens? and theyd look at me as if Id lost my mind. Incidentally, Herb Miles is African-American.

People have collected coins for the value of their metals for as long as coins have been minted; collecting them for their aesthetic value came later. From Mesopotamia to Ancient Rome, scholars and state treasuries collected and catalogued coins. From the Middle Ages through the eighteenth century, the hobby was mainly for the well-to-do. Todays hobby is rooted in the nineteenth century when the new middle class adopted the leisure activities of the wealthy.

Coin collecting is accessible in some form or another to nearly everyone. The wide variety of denominations, conditions, materials, and origins mean that collectors have an enormous spectrum from which to choose. Values run from a few cents to the astronomical. An excellent specimen of one of the first coins to come from the first U.S. mint in Philadelphia, a rare chain cent, is worth $750,000!

One of the problems facing the Fremont Coin Club and clubs around the country is the difficulty of finding new members. While the Internet and eBay have seemingly made it easy for less social collectors to enjoy their hobby alone, according to a 2008 article in the Numismatic News by Jim Majoros, clubs were even in decline before the Web. His calculations suggest that in the years between 1975 and 2008, there was a 60 percent loss of coin club membership. California alone went from 173 to 59 recognized clubs. As a result, most clubs are finding ways of getting youth interested early.

Roger Lyles, a charter member of the Fremont club, describes the life cycle of the collector thus: Kids get introduced to the hobby by an elder, usually someone from the family. As a kid, the young collector might chase a few coins, but then life happens. Only when that person achieves middle age and attains some discretionary income (and time), the collecting flame is rekindled. Then that collector passes on the interest to a child, or grandchild, thus completing the cycle. Lyles? version would account for the preponderance of seniors in the club, as well as the presence of a few kids who act as auction runners or give show-and-tell talks about their favorite coins.

Visitors to Fremont Coin Club meeting can peruse member displays, participate in a show and tell, listen to a short talk, and bid on items consigned by members, who may keep the proceeds or designate them for club activities such as annual dinners and shows.

A sample of the sort of items auctioned off appears in the clubs May/June 2012 newsletter: 1914 Australian Florin, Eisenhower dollar varieties, tokens from the Western Token Jamboree and Alameda County, Indian cents, uncirculated silver half-dollars, a mint 1910 Liberty nickel, a ten ounce silver bar, and more.

At the January 23rd meeting, Lyles, a retired a real estate broker of 46 years, related his own story: My father was a collector, he said, and in 1952 he gave me a penny that was the size of a half dollar. I said, this is a penny? He saw I had an interest. Lyles? father owned a grocery store, where young Lyles would find interesting coins and buy them with his $1.50 an hour wage.

Four years ago he sold the business and devoted himself to his hobby. Hes doing well. Stuff that I may have paid five bucks for back in 1960, says Lyles, I get maybe seventy-five bucks today. Is that a profit after inflation? Well, thats a matter for debate. The risks you take as a coin seller today are substantial.

Lyles spends two or three days a week involved in coin activities, visiting different coin shops, buying this and that. Of course, for any collector, theres no selling without a little buying. I tell my wife, says Lyles, If I cant have it to sell, I cant sell it! If I sell one thing and I do good, Ill buy another and try again.

Aside from guest speakers, the club often hosts other special and fun activities, such as hot dog night, ice cream socials, and their annual barbeque, to name a few. One of the most interesting meetings is other hobbies night when everyone is encouraged to bring a sample or two and talk about what else they collect, aside from coins and currency. Its amazing what people collect, says the Club website, and we love hearing about it. And lets face it, the more people who know you collect it, the faster your collection can grow coin or otherwise!

For more information on club dues, meetings, and links to important coin related sites, visit

Fremont Coin Club
2nd & 4th Tuesday
7 p.m.
Fremont Elk's Lodge
38991 Farwell Dr., Fremont

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